Bah Humbug

Question, people:

When does the whole “goodwill towards men” part begin?  Is there a specific date?

I ask because I’m about to go ballistic on a few people, and I don’t want to start handing out beat-downs during the time I’m supposed to be good.  Can’t have someone dropping a dime on me to Santa, you know.

I will confess that it is totally MIND BLOWING to me that the one season of the year that’s allegedly devoted to promoting a peaceful co-existence is that same season where people go completely bat-shit crazy.  I mean, I write a lot of that off to the stresses created by commercialization and consumerism – the idea that you have to give someone a gift, or that you have to give a specific gift to be considered cool; the idea that certain things have to be on display for the world to see, or they’re somehow invalidated; the notion that if you don’t do everything in your power to make one twenty-four hour period perfect, then the whole season – no, the whole year – is a complete waste.

But you’d think that with all of the imagery and what-not, that these same people would take a deep breath, count to ten, and remember the whole thing about “goodwill towards men.”

I mean, that’s the point, isn’t it?

Christmas used to be my favorite season.  Our family had a routine, which we followed to the letter every year, beginning the morning after Thanksgiving.  My mother, who loved Christmas more than anyone I’ve ever known, made it clear that Christmas wasn’t coming to our house until it was cleaned from top to bottom.  Being kids, we fell for that stunt, each targeting a specific room in the house.  As we did this, Mom pulled out her Christmas LPs from Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Jim Nabors, and who-knows-who-else.

Once the house passed inspection, it fell to my brother and I to go into the attic to get The Tree®.  Our Christmas tree was an artificial 6-foot spruce, that was usually kept in it’s original shipping box with the Montgomery Ward’s label.  It wasn’t a difficult tree to retrieve, but it was unwieldy when it came to bringing it down the stairs – hence, the two-man job.  I had a love-hate relationship with that tree because inevitably, something had not been unhooked or disconnected from the previous year, and it often fell to me to resolve the issue.  I don’t know what the “pine needles” were made from, but there always seemed to be more of them in the box and on the floor than there should have been, and guess who always had the “honor” of vacuuming those things?

While we were getting The Tree®, my mother had our sisters move a corner living room table to some other area of the house.  Where it went was their problem; it just had to go because that’s where The Tree® would reside for the next 32 days.  One hour and two averted fights later – I didn’t start them – the spruce was assembled; bruised, battered, bent, and scarred, it stood there before us in its naked green-ness, unadorned.

“Let it air out,” my mother would always say, “and we’ll put the ornaments on tomorrow.”

The next few days were fantastic:  Mom baked hundreds of cookies, most based on recipes from her Better Homes and Gardens and Betty Crocker cookbooks.  Sugar cookies with colored sugar crystals, peanut butter cookies with the cross-hatch fork pattern; shaped cookies with icing designs, various cookies with powdered sugar on top, or with Hershey Kisses® pressed into their centers – if it could be made, she made it.  And while the house was always filled with the aromas of some baked item, there was music always playing in the background.  We had a Hi-Fi back then – a massive credenza-like appliance that probably dated to the late 1960s – and inside was a pocket wherein one could store albums.  Mom loved music – actually, both of my parents did – but where my father had a sizable collection of religious music, Mom had a larger collection of Christmas music.  When one LP finished, we flipped it over for the other side, and played it.  When the album concluded, it was time for the next one.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

When she was cookied-out, Mom turned to pies:  Sweet potato pies, custard pies, German Chocolate pies.  When I look back on it, I’m amazed that we didn’t become diabetics.  There was an occasional cake, but only if she wanted one – there was just too much goodness on our tables.  She baked for us, but she also baked for others – tins of cookies and pies were regularly flowing out of the kitchen for cousins, friends, church members, and the occasional work colleague.

This was all before a single gift was purchased, or a single cup of hot chocolate was prepared.

Christmas was a wonderful time for me because this was “her” holiday.  My mom loved it, and I loved it because she made it special.  My father, who wasn’t as expressive as she was, enjoyed it, too, but was quick to remind us that the holiday wasn’t all about gifts or some guy called Santa.  It was just a great time.

And then one day, I grew up.  Hit that phase where “childish things” were things that children did.  You know what I mean – the asshole years of puberty, where “you” are suddenly the smartest and coolest person in the world.  That age when you do everything in your power to push away those embarrassing people who call you “Son.”  That phase – which incidentally coincided with the start of my mother’s physical decline.

The Tree® didn’t come down as much; the cleaning was put off until “tomorrow.”  We were growing up; there were places to go and things to do, none of which would happen at home.  Mom baked only a fraction of the goodies she once made; soon, she baked nothing at all.  It was just easier to buy a box of supermarket cookies – no one was going to eat them, anyway.

Then, one day, she was gone.  A few years later, Dad joined her.

Christmas was never the same.  Not for me, at least.

I’ve gotten cynical over the years.  I see Christmas not as a celebration of Christ, but as a cash grab by corporations.  It’s become an opportunity for people to act like idiots and assholes, all while draping themselves in religious glory.  There’s no joy in Christmas anymore.  I keep thinking that maybe if I try to replicate what my parents did for us, it might put me back in the spirit of the season.  That it might restore some element of faith in humanity that I’ve long since abandoned.

One of my biggest regrets was in not saving the Christmas LP collection after my parents passed; I have no idea as to what happened to it.  Periodically, I see CD versions of the same LPs available at Target or Walmart, but I’ve yet to buy them.  Each year I say that I will so that I can relive those holiday experiences, but I always find some reason to “wait until next year.”

Maybe this will be the year.


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